Democracy in Latin America: Colombia and Venezuela

By Donald L. Herman | Go to book overview

Preface

Everywhere in Latin America democracy seems to be dead, dying, or under siege. Twelve of the twenty republics (and the vast majority of the Latin American population) are presently (spring 1978) governed by military regimes, and in five of the remaining countries the military is so close to the surface of power as to make the civil/military distinction nearly meaningless. It has now become commonplace to point to the decline of civilian democracy throughout the continent, the rash of military coups since the 1960s, the rise of corporate-authoritarian regimes in such formerly democratic nations as Chile and Uruguay, the use of torture and repression in Argentina and Brazil, and widespread violations of human rights. 1

As the 1970s drew to a close, the previously cited syndrome remained intact and only three countries continued to retain civilian-led democratic governments: Costa Rica, Colombia, and Venezuela. 2 Beginning in the winter of 1980, however, most of the dictatorships began to topple like a row of dominoes and constitutionally elected governments under civilian leadership assumed center stage. By the summer of 1986, only Cuba, Chile, and Paraguay were clearly under dictatorial rule. 3 After many years of military dictatorships, such important countries as Argentina and Brazil have once again turned to democratic regimes. In Central America the remaining military dictatorship, Guatemala, held Constituent Assembly elections in 1984 and presidential, congressional, and municipal elections in 1985. In February 1986 the Duvalier dynasty was overthrown in Haiti.

Is democracy sweeping Latin America? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Although it is true that democracies require freely contested elections, they must also establish effective problem-solving mechanisms to deal with socioeconomic

-ix-

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